SEATTLE -- Forget about the late touchdown drive, which ultimately did little more than pad some offensive stats. Those trying to figure out where it all went wrong for the Washington Redskins yesterday need only look at the first 16 minutes of their 20-10 NFC playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
During that span, the Redskins offense took the field five times, and each time they went three-and-out.
By the time punter Derrick Frost made his fifth appearance in just more than a quarter, Washington's offense had truly hit rock bottom: five series, 21 yards, no first downs, no hope.
"Tough way to start a football game," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "It's tough to establish any momentum or get anything going. I think that hurt us."
Brunell once again was right in the middle of the Redskins' misery. One week after escaping Tampa Bay with a victory despite throwing for just 41 yards, he opened yesterday's game a pitiful 2-for-7 for 3 yards.
"We were excited to come out and play hard, and they just stopped us," H-back Chris Cooley said. "And that kind of ended it for us."
True, the Redskins trailed just 7-3 at halftime, thanks to some stellar defense, and the outcome wasn't sealed until the final minutes. But the way Washington's offense -- particularly Brunell -- struggled to get anything going, there wasn't much reason to believe things were going to suddenly turn around.
Redskins players cited any number of reasons for their offensive ineptitude. They had terrible early field position. The Seahawks stacked the line of scrimmage with as many as eight defenders, stifling running back Clinton Portis and daring Brunell to pass. Washington's receiving corps was so banged up at one point that Jimmy Farris was forced to line up alongside Santana Moss.
"You want your best guys in there," Brunell said. "We've had a lot of injuries, it's unfortunate. But that's the time of the year. A lot of guys are banged up."
Including the 35-year-old quarterback. Despite enjoying a brief career revival earlier this season, Brunell looked worn down by the end. He sprained a ligament in his right knee three weeks ago, and his arm strength seemed to diminish down the stretch.
Brunell was spared a world of criticism for last week's offensive struggles against the Buccaneers, but it was hard to escape the questions following yesterday's loss. Though he finished with a respectable passing line -- 22-for-37, 242 yards and a touchdown -- much of that came during a frantic fourth-quarter rally.
At the end of the third quarter, Brunell was 11-for-26 for 89 yards and only the late charge kept him from a ninth consecutive game with fewer than 200 passing yards.
"That is my responsibility," coach Joe Gibbs said. "Obviously, I think we want to be more productive than what we were in the playoffs. That will be one of the things we look hard at. Offensively, how can we do a better job?"
The Redskins should benefit from returning nearly everyone on offense next season, including Brunell, who is unlikely to face the kind of training-camp challenge from Patrick Ramsey he did last summer. Gibbs continues to throw his full support at the veteran quarterback, and perhaps that familiarity and trust will translate into a more consistent offensive attack in 2006.
"We've come a long way since last year," Brunell said. "Hopefully, this will be a stepping stone for this football team. I think we've got great talent, I think we've got guys with great character, all the things you want. I hope we can keep this group intact. It's difficult to do nowadays. But if we can, I expect some good things next year."
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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